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Zoo Station

(John Russell & Effi Koenen #1)

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  5,575 ratings  ·  534 reviews
By 1939, Anglo-American journalist John Russell has spent over a decade in Berlin, where his son lives with his mother. He writes human-interest pieces for British and American papers, avoiding the investigative journalism that could get him deported. But as World War II approaches, he faces having to leave his son as well as his girlfriend of several years, a beautiful Ge ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Soho Crime (first published May 1st 2007)
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3.84  · 
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 ·  5,575 ratings  ·  534 reviews

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Andrew Robins
i don't really know what to think of this book. I like the subject matter, and the main characters are interesting. However, everything is a bit too .... obvious. If you don't know anything about Nazi Germany, you'd probably enjoy it. If you do, though, it will irritate you, as it is to a large degree like reading an O Level history text.

There is no subtlety to it at all. For example, at the start, the main character encounters children geting on a kindertransport at the station in Berlin, and
Opening in pre-World War 2 Berlin, the book sees journalist, John Russell, witness firsthand increasing anti-Jewish sentiment and signs of the persecution and brutality to come. There is a particularly powerful scene at the beginning of the book which illustrates this. At the same time, in a chilling juxtaposition, the German people continue going about their daily activities: enjoying coffee and cake in pavement cafes, shopping, visiting the theatre or enjoying the latest Marx Brothers film at ...more
I was very pleasantly surprised by this mystery/ thriller. I rarely give 5 - star ratings to mystery/ thrillers, but this was an such an engrossing story. It's my first book by David Downing, the first in his John Russell series. Russell is a British reporter living in Berlin just before WWII as the Nazis are consolidating power in the country and beginning to make waves in the world. He's a bit of a cynic, reporting on small items, making ends meet, living with his girl friend, German actress, ...more
A spy-thriller centered around John Russel, an English free-lance journalist in Berlin 1939 with an German ex-wife & son and a German girlfriend. One day, while in Danzig, Russel is approached by a Russian who requests articles by him for the Soviet newspaper Pravda about “Nazi achievements”. Although a little suspicious, Russel accepts the task and that’s when his “career” as a involuntary spy begins.

The novel (which sat on my Kindle for so long that I totally forgot why I bought it in the
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is just the start of his work. There are now 6 Downing Berlin books in this series, that hold titles which are named after those real train stations in the city of Berlin, Germany. Zoo Station is the earliest/first book and introduces John Russell, a foreign correspondent with a German son and German girlfriend. He is English but ends up taking an American citizenship from his birth mother. These books are not fast paced and hold considerable detail to old Berlin, Nazi law's increasing powe ...more
Nov 21, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-thriller
Thriller on Training Wheels

This novel fits into the fiction category I call Casablanca Lite - the emphasis on Lite. The protagonist in this type of story finds himself surrounded by the evils of Nazi Germany and at first reluctantly and then finally whole-heartedly picks up his sword and fights the good fight.

In Zoo Station, our hero John Russell, is a British journalist - not a cynical and jaded café proprietor - based in pre-WWII Germany who wields a pen and a press pass rather than the above
Robert Ronsson
I took this book out of the library to read on a return coach trip from the Midlands to Sunderland. (Kidderminster Harriers away to Sunderland in the FA Cup Saturday 25th January 2014.) I chose it because I'm a fan of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series which starts in the same pre-war Berlin setting.
Kerr does the job better. Having written about this period myself I know how easy it is to get carried away by one's research. Whereas Kerr (and I hope, I) evoke the period and the place subtly, Dow
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Period wartime espionage thriller with an imperfect attempt at 1939 Berlin atmosphere.

I have a fetish for WWII and WWI pre-wartime thrillers. Both Goodread’s and Amazon’s algorithms constantly dog my reading heels with Downing’s Station Series. I gave it a try.

Note: Alexander Platz (1939), home of the Berlin Police Detective Headquarters . This book takes place in the early months of 1939, not the summer as shown.

This is a spy thriller about a somewhat leftist, British, past-his-prime journo an
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-series
Story about an English journalist-who-becomes-a-spy story set in the months leading up to WWII.

John Russell is an English journalist living in Germany circa 1939. He's a bystander, a witness, to the slow and wholesale destruction of an entire society - the German one - as they slide downhill into the barbarous and destructive entity that tried to take over the world, and by this I mean the Third Reich.

At first John goes about his usual daily life, watching as small things mount up - the brutal
Lance Charnes
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers waiting for the next Alan Furst novel
Interwar Europe is such fertile ground for mysteries, thrillers and spy novels that it's a wonder more authors don't use it. Not that there's a shortage of authors playing in that sandbox; Philip Kerr, Alan Furst and Jacqueline Winspear come to mind without having to think hard. Add David Downing to the list with Zoo Station, the first in a series that's been going on since 2008 but one I've only recently discovered.

The setting cries out for a slightly seedy, morally compromised main character (
Jan 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine the recurring (older) SNL skit "The Californians" reimagined in pre-WWII Berlin and you've got 80% of this book. Sprinkle in some historical tidbits, a fairly mundane plot and surprisingly frequent descriptions of our main character either drinking coffee, considering drinking coffee or hoping that he doesn't get invited for coffee and you've got the outline for a historical-mystery series; the titular theme of which appears to be train station names.

That's not to say it's not an enjoyab
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
About a 3.8 rounded up to a 4.0, fuller review to follow

First off - A good yarn!

So Whats it about & whose init.....

Their's John Russell, A Brit-journo who resides in Berlin & has done for the past decade or more, his actress g/f, whose German, Also his ex-wife & Son play a central part. The story starts at the turn of 1938 in Danz..... Gdansk ;) where Russell intervenes between a British embassy official escorting Jewish children out of the country & a stormtrooper (SA brownshirt
Aug 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mainstream, read_2009
Some people commented about David Downing's John Russell books as "once you are finished with Alan Furst" and I would not disagree in the sense that they have a clear similarity though also notable differences insofar they follow one main character rather than a largish cast that changes from novel to novel while keeping a sense of connection by cameos and references.

Anyway if you love Alan Furst you will love David Downing for the same minute recreation of the pre-WW2 tense and dark atmosphere,
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-thriller
I enjoyed this novel, though it seemed to take me a long time to finish it ! The author undoubtedly did a great deal of research of Berlin in the pre war period and the reader can gain a feeling of how life went on and how Berliners dealt with the rapidly changing situation. I came to like Russell and his compassion showed, particularly as the story progressed. My only gripe of this book was its extensive use of Street/Road names which added very little to the story and indeed made me put the bo ...more
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Zoo Station - former main station of West-Berlin and main station of Berlin before and during WWII, is a very special place.
Also very special is the book. The story is about John Russell, half British, half American. A journalist. Not an normal man: ex-communist, father of a boy but not longer married to his mother, and an actress as fiance. Between the lines of Nazis, Sovjets, Jews he plays a game, better to say: many games.
He saved a Jewish family by helping them to get out of Nazi-Germany. H
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Downing has written a series of novels about an English journalist in Berlin during WW II. In Zoo Station, the first of the series, John Russell, is in Danzig when he’s approached by a Soviet NKVD agent offering him a lot of money for a series of articles that portrayed Naziism in a positive light. Russell is an Englishman, a former Communist, who fought in WW I, having married (now estranged) a German woman. His son, Paul, born in Germany, is a member of the Hitler Youth.

Russell suspects
Rob Kitchin
I enjoyed Zoo Station without being bowled over by it. It’s an interesting story, competently told, with care and attention given to the historical context but lacking in high drama (despite all the potential, I was never 'on the edge of my seat'). The characterization is okay; the people populating the story are in the main ordinary folk trying to get by and the result is that they’re generally not very memorable. John Russell is a reluctant hero; he’s got no quirks or odd traits and he’s polit ...more
Scott Head
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a colorful spy story that has fans of the genre on either side of the fence. For some, it’s a deep thinking book, a thoughtful thriller. For others its hackneyed and bland. I lean to the side of the spectrum that enjoyed the book, and this might be colored a bit by coming off reading a couple of shallow but speedy Dennis Wheatley spy thrillers. A lot of slow and moody books can seem like glistening gems against a rip-roaring Wheatley adventure.

But Zoo Station is moody. It is thoughtful.
Jan 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was slow and he talked too much about which streets he walking on. It was not very descriptive and I did not have a strong sense of the main characters. The time the book took place, pre-WWII, was interesting but there was just no real catching plot. It took me about 100 pages to get into it and even then I could of put it down and started another book, but I'm not one to put a book down no matter how bad it is.
Bonnie Murrow
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: downing-david, 2016
For those who aren't worried about what's happening in our politics, read this book. Very quotable - my favorite in a discussion of intellectuals in Germany "being right doesn't matter any more."

Just before Jews were exterminated and Hitler invaded his neighbors. Pay attention, America.
A life concerned only with survival was a thin life. p241

In Germany and the adjacent countries in the years leading up to the 2nd world war, life is getting rather thin. As the population tries to carry on in the face increasing disturbance, it becomes clear that 'being right doesn't count anymore' p51 and that 'one family's success is another family's failure' p89....'in all it's sad and predictable detail.' p115.

It's only a matter of time that John Russell, a journalist living in Berlin, born
Melissa Dee
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first in the John Russell series introduces the English journalist living in Germany in the months leading up to the outbreak of WWII. Russell has a German girlfriend and son, and despite his obvious dislike of the Nazi regime and all it stands for, Berlin is home, and he plans to stay as long as he can. For the most part, Russell is willing to keep his head down and avoid the attention of the Gestapo, but when a colleague is killed, and a Jewish family of his acquaintance is threatened, the ...more
Jan 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2, fiction, espionage
This story of an English journalist living in Berlin during early 1939 is wonderfully told by David Downing. Downing weaves into the story incredible descriptions of mid-twentieth century European cities, the people and the challenges European society was facing post WW I. Like Allan Furst, Downing's story immerses the reader in the wintry cold grey city of Berlin dodging Gestapo agents while trying to save persecuted family members and supply critical military information to what will become th ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: between-the-wars
You'll like Zoo Station, if you like Philip Kerr's 'Bernie Gunther' stories or Robert Harris' 'Fatherland'. If you like Alan Furst.

If you like thrillers set in Europe the years leading up to the outbreak of WWII.

If you'd like a tantalizing glimpse into a somewhat forgotten - and in many ways, misunderstood - world.

Zoo Station, the first in David Downing's Zoo series, is a really rather wonderful and absorbing period piece. In essence; a small tale set against a much bigger, darker backdrop. Invo
May 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this novel, but thought that Downing handled the social, political and emotional ramifications of his character's situation better than the espionage. That side of it is fairly humdrum - meetings with various individuals, some of them downright dodgy, in various places outside Germany, on missions that aren't altogether clear. No doubt that's not far from the truth, but what really grabbed my attention was the background to it all; the increasingly murderous nature of the Nazi regime, ...more
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. “Zoo Station” is a spy/espionage book that takes place in 1939, just before Hitler’s utter dominance over Europe is about to be fully exposed. John Russell is a British journalist living in Germany...loving a German actress...and father to 11 year old Paul. Russell is forced to make personal and professional decisions in defence of a Jewish family as well as in support of humanity. Albert, a young Jew, says “I used to wonder how people could be so cruel, but I never ...more
If you like Alan Furst, check this out. English journalist wrestles with his conscience and complicity whilst living in post-Kristallnacht/pre-WWII Berlin. Sedate, thoughtful, with a slow burn tension.

One wonders why I'm currently attracted to novels about creeping fascism...
Nov 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An expatriate English journalist in 1938 Berlin innocently undertakes a series of articles, and finds himself drawn into an increasingly complicated series of related events which culminate in a very gripping conclusion. As good as Alan Furst's best (the highest praise I can give), Zoo Station beautifully evokes the gathering storm in Germany with its combined air of terror and resignation on the part of those living there. The book deals with the escalating persecution of the Jews, the gatheri ...more
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
ok first of all I apologise since I read this book after seeing the whole series (well that have been released so far) in the bookshop I help at. I am not aware of its history or how well known it is.
That now out the way I can say I really enjoyed reading it. Maybe because its totally different to the books I have recently been reading or that its a really good read to coin such a shallow term. The book to me opens up the climate and experiences of pre- Second World War Germany and its its horr
A few years ago my Grandfather started to speak of the war in bits and pieces. He sparked my interst in learning more. I've read several fictional books over the years about the war, but Zoo Station puts the icing on the cake.

What an intellectually fascinating written story of espionage, good and evil and the time leading up to the brink of war. As I got deeper into the story the more intriqued I became by the characters and their situation. This book touched my heart. A must read.

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David Downing is the author of a political thriller, two alternative histories and a number of books on military and political history and other subjects as diverse as Neil Young and Russian Football.

Other books in the series

John Russell & Effi Koenen (6 books)
  • Silesian Station (John Russell, #2)
  • Stettin Station (John Russell, #3)
  • Potsdam Station (John Russell, #4)
  • Lehrter Station (John Russell, #5)
  • Masaryk Station (John Russell, #6)
“the remark of a Middlesex Regiment officer in 1918. “Intelligence services,” the man had said, “are prone to looking up their own arses and wondering why it’s dark.” 5 likes
“All the governments were telling their soldiers that they had God and right on their side, and that dying for their country was the least they could do, but – well, think about it – what does it mean, dying for your country? What exactly is your country? The buildings and the grass and the trees? The people? The way of life? People say you should love your country, and be proud of it, and there are usually things to love and be proud of. But there are usually things to dislike as well, and every country has things to be ashamed of. So what does dying for your country achieve? Nothing, as far as I could see. Living for your country, you get the chance to make it better.” 0 likes
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